By Charlie Connell (pictured: right), ART 180 Board President
Twenty years ago, on a warm July morning, I was roughing in a concept for a mural on a large interior wall of the Salvation Army Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Church Hill. This was only the second mural I had ever worked on and this one was going to be a very different -- the children from the neighborhood were going to help.
I was a volunteer with the Richmond Sports Backers and they were rehabbing the sports facilities at the Club and asked if I would lead a mural project. Luckily I was also involved with the original steering committee for ART 180 and we were looking for community projects to fulfill our mission of turning lives and communities around through art -- perfect match.
The interactions between our ART 180 volunteers and our young artists that day were priceless and I learned very early on not to over art direct. It was much better to let them express themselves as we created imagery depicting a healthy lifestyle. A pool with a celery stick diving board, books and apples (including happy worms for both). The colors they used were unconventional and they did not necessarily stay in the lines we sketched for them, but that was okay.
The most important thing was that they did it themselves and would be able to revisit their work to show others. In fact, the moment that our ART 180 mission clicked for me was when the quietest of all the young artist pulled his parents in to show what he had done.
Maybe it was pure exhaustion and the end of a long day, but it was difficult for me not to get choked up when I saw the smile on his face and the pride his voice that had barely uttered anything all day.
Regardless of what circumstances those young artist at the Salvation Army Boy’s and Girl’s Club face each day, I was excited that our group of volunteers provided an escape and a chance to be heard. My first project for ART 180 reinforced the idea that what we were trying to do was important and a worthwhile cause that I wanted to be a part of.